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Watching the Watchdog: 2012, the Deadliest Year for Journalists

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Tim Knight writes the media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

Did you know that 16 journalists have been killed in Syria this year while trying to bring you news of what's happening in that war?

Did you know that around the world, 119 journalists have died in the line of duty this year? The worst year ever.

Did you know that a journalist is deliberately killed somewhere in the world every eight days?

And did you know that more than one out of every three of those journalists are murdered, one way or another, by governments? And nine out of every 10 murderers of journalists go free. This is the norm, the way it is, in our honourable craft today. And the job's getting ever more dangerous.

The highly respected international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reminds us that journalist killings threaten "everyone's right to seek and convey news and opinion."

Which means, of course, that the killings threaten our Canadian right too. Just as much as the right of the citizens of the 10 most dangerous countries for journalists -- Iraq (151 journalist deaths), the Philippines (73), Algeria (60), Russia (53), Somalia (48), Pakistan (46), Colombia (43), India (28), Mexico (28) and Afghanistan (24).

Scariest of all though, is the CPJ's finding that: "Government officials and allied paramilitary groups are suspected of being involved in more than one-third of journalist murders worldwide since 1992. That's a higher proportion than terrorist groups or criminal gangs."

Governments kill journalists who do nothing more than seek and report the truth? Surely not? Certainly, no democratically elected government would ever do such an appalling thing!

Yet in Gaza, on the same day the CPJ figures were released, Israeli military missiles targeted and killed two news cameramen working for Al-Aqsa TV (their car marked "TV" in neon-coloured letters) and the director of Al-Quds' Educational Radio.

Earlier that same week, Israeli missile strikes zeroed in on two Gaza buildings, widely known to house a score of international and local media organizations. Among them, Reuters (owned by Canada's Thomson Corporation), The Associated Press, CNN, Sky News, Russia Today, Al-Arabiya, Al-Aqsa TV, Al-Quds TV, and the Ma'an News Agency. Nine journalists were injured in the attack.

Israel didn't even offer the conventional governmental explanations most governments use to excuse attacks on journalists. That the deaths and injuries happened in the fog of war and were an accident. Or that someone else did it.

Instead, an Israeli military spokeswoman explained blandly and with, no doubt, deliberate vagueness: "The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity."

Which means that Israel claims the right to kill anyone who, in its opinion, has "relevance to terror activity." Which means, in turn, that any government, including our own Canadian government (which supports Israel in just about everything it does), can use that same excuse any time it wishes to kill a few journalists it doesn't like.

For instance, all our government has to do is remind us of the FLQ crisis 42 years ago. Then declare journalists at the souverainiste newspaper Le Québécois and Québec-Radio "people who have relevance to terror activity." A few well-placed rockets will doubtless handle that problem too.

Things are so bad that the International Press Institute (IPI) has an official Death Watch, detailing deliberate killings of journalists going back to 1997.

Last Friday was International Day to End Impunity. It's the day when journalists and civil society groups around the world speak up against impunity from punishment -- including government impunity -- that allows, even encourages violence against journalists:

"Impunity means it is all right to take the voice away from those who speak in the public interest or those with whom you don't agree or those who tell the stories others might not like to hear."

Here's part of a final draft of a United Nations report on what it calls The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity:

"Without freedom of expression, and particularly freedom of the press, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible."

"Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is [one] observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship."

So next time you read about a journalist killed in the line of duty you might remember John Donne's great poem No Man Is An Island:

"... send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee."

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